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Haley Vecchiarelli / Senior Staff Photographer

Rebiya Kadeer addressed an audience of about 70 at an event sponsored by the Columbia International Relations Council and Association. She faced Uyghur advocates as well as protestors.

China's most wanted woman spoke at Columbia Tuesday evening at a forum hosted by the Columbia International Relations Council and Association. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association, spoke to an audience of about 70 as a guest of CIRCA, a student organization focused on engagement with international affairs. Wearing a traditional Turkic hat atop her two long braids and speaking through a translator, Kadeer discussed the long-standing tensions between the Muslim Uyghur minority and the Chinese government as well as this summer's violent clashes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Kadeer was born in the Xinjiang province—which she refers to as East Turkistan—and lived as one of China's richest businesswomen until she was jailed in 2000 as a result of her political activism in support of the Uyghur cause. Released five years later, she came to the United States and now continues her activism from Washington, D.C. In recent statements, the Chinese government has named her culpable for inciting the summer's ethnic riots at the cost of an estimated 200 lives, a charge that Kadeer vehemently denied at the event. The controversy surrounding the Xinjiang riots elicited protest, and in Havemeyer Hall students posted signs saying "Rebiya Kadeer is a terrorist" and distributed brochures near the building's entranceprior to the speech. One student held a poster that read "Stop Lying Rebiya Kadeer" while two other students handed out pamphlets. As Kadeer began her speech, Public Safety officers removed one protesting student and confiscated his sign. Speaking through an interpreter, Kadeer highlighted the Chinese government's "Develop the West" program, which she characterized as one geared toward the assimilation of the Uyghur ethnicity into the greater Han Chinese majority. According to Kadeer, the government has succeeded in encouraging Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang by offering priority status for employment, as well as easily obtainable housing. Kadeer lamented these efforts to resettle Xinjiang with Han Chinese which she said, when combined with forced movement of Uyghur youths to other regions of China for work, created major population imbalances. As Han Chinese moved to Xinjiang and took jobs there, the government "forced young Uyghur girls and young Uyghur boys to go to big cities like Guangdong, Shanghai, and Beijing and take up jobs in factories," she said. "Why can't they find jobs for them in East Turkistan when millions of Chinese immigrants get jobs? Why are they moved to different, alien places?" Kadeer also criticized what she characterized as the Chinese government's opportunism in using the war on terror to brand "obscure" Uyghur groups as terrorists. Kadeer described the government's campaign to control coverage of this summer's unrest in Xinjiang as a broad effort to portray Han Chinese residents of the region as victims of Uyghur violence. "What you hear from the Chinese propaganda is not the truth," she said. "They showed gruesome images of Chinese victims 24 hours a day as a result [Han] Chinese took to the street." In the question and answer session following her speech, one student asked Kadeer for her thoughts on the Chinese government's policy of favoring Uyghur and other minority students in college entrance exams. The policy, which some Han Chinese view as discriminatory, dictates that minority students receive an extra 15 points on their exam scores. Kadeer responded that, while this may benefit Uyghur students in the short term, discimination in the job market negates any positive impact it may have on Uyghur unemployment. Despite her criticism of the Chinese government, in an interview with the Spectator prior to her speech, Kadeer mentioned what she saw as a possibility for coexistence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. This summer "Uyghur students, for the first time, held Chinese flags during the protests," she said. "They wanted to send a message that they accept Chinese rule but want to be treated as citizens." In the meantime, Kadeer called for openness and international attention to the Xinjiang unrest and the plight of the Uyghur people. "I want the world to stop the genocide of Uyghur people. I call for democratic countries, especially, to go to China and find out the truth for themselves," she said. "We are asking the help of the world, because we cannot help ourselves."